- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson ceremonially signed a bill yesterday requiring businesses to provide a “living wage” for workers, though business and government leaders did not know how much the measure would cost.

“This bill is not only a question about liveable wage,” Mr. Johnson told a crowd of about 50 during a press conference at the county administration building, “it’s really about human decency.”

The Prince George’s law, which was actually signed into law June 12, is modeled after Montgomery County’s, which went into effect last month. It requires that businesses with more than 10 employees seeking to contract at least $50,000 in county services pay a minimum of $10.50 per hour. The federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour.

County officials and business leaders could not provide an assessment yesterday on how much the measure would cost the county.

County Council Vice Chairman Tony Knotts, Temple Hills Democrat, was the sole dissenter in the panel’s 8-1 vote to pass a living-wage law last month.

“It’s not that the councilman doesn’t support a living wage,” Betty Horton-Hodge, legislative aide for Mr. Knotts, said yesterday. “But information was not forthcoming in terms of how much it was going to cost the county … and he also thought it would be better to wait until the results of the study were finished.”

Hubert Green, president of Prince George’s County Black Chamber of Commerce, expressed worry that the mandated wage increase would force small businesses in the area to close.

“I should think that you should do a study first, before passing the bill,” Mr. Green said yesterday. “They don’t know the economic impact [of the living wage]. We don’t know if we need it. We don’t know how much it costs.”

According to a May article in The Washington Post, the council was to authorize a study on the costs of the living-wage law the year after it was passed.

But council member Thomas R. Hendershot, New Carrollton Democrat and a key sponsor of the bill, said the council “is not planning any study.”

“I don’t know whether there will be one or not,” he said, “but I expect this bill to be implemented.”

Mr. Hendershot said he did not have a clear estimate of the costs of implementing the law but said $250,000 for administration costs is a fair appraisal.

Jean Arthur, communications associate for the Montgomery County Council, said that gleaning cost estimates from her county’s new law is difficult, “but millions is a safe estimate.”

Mrs. Horton-Hodge said estimates in Prince George’s County have ranged from $300,000 to $6 million.

“What’s this going to cost the county to implement this? [This] is a big disparity,” she said. “It’ll come from businesses, but for any law that has to be implemented, it has to be monitored, so you may have extra staffing.”

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